One of the few people for whom I have ever voted who was actually elected to public office was the late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois. I liked his common sense approach, his gravelly voice and his grandfatherly appearance. He was the senior senator from my adopted state. He also had a sense of humor.
One of his quotes which I remember was, “A hundred million here – a hundred million there – pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” I guess it was a Washington mind-set (and truly small change by today’s standards).
He and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey who lost his election bid for president against Richard M. Nixon was one of Sen. Dirksen’s adversaries in the upper house. They were opposed on nearly every issue brought before them.
This rivalry extended beyond their political disagreements. It took on a personal nature when Sen. Dirksen was one of the first to get a phone installed in his car. And he couldn’t resist making his first call to Sen. Humphrey’s office to let him know that.
In an age where everyone has mobile communications at our disposal – this may sound strange. But back in the days when a car phone was a big deal – only the wealthy and powerful could get one.
Humphrey made every effort to catch up with his rival. Apparently the fact that Dirksen had something which he wanted but couldn’t get truly bothered him. And then one day he got the word from his staff that the FCC had approved his request. His car phone would be available within a few weeks.
Humphrey counted down the days. He checked with his staff every morning to see if they heard anything about whether today was the day that the phone would arrive in his office. And then one day it was there.
Humphrey wasted no time having his secretary call the installer whom he had contacted to get this modern invention installed in his car. And leaving the office early, he placed his first call. Naturally, this was to Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen.
As it happened, Dirksen was on his way home in his car when his phone rang. Dirksen picked up the phone and in his distinctive voice said, “Hello.”
Humphrey said, “Hello, Ev. This is Hubert. I’m calling you from my car phone.”
To which Dirksen replied, “Hang on a moment, Hubert. I’m on the other line.”
And that’s the epitome of Washingtonian “One-Upsmanship at its finest.”